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Following Islamist Backlash, Pakistan Removes Economist From Key Role

Pakistan' s Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry
Pakistan' s Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry

(Reuters) - Pakistan's new government canceled the appointment of a renowned Princeton economist to its Economic Advisory Council after a strong backlash against the choice of a member of the Ahmadi religious minority.

The failure of Prime Minister Imran Khan's government to resist pressure to drop economist Atif Mian reflects the increasing clout of hard-line Islamists, whose parties won around 10 percent of the vote at the last election in July.

Faced with a looming balance-of-payments crisis that may force the country to seek a fresh bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or other lenders, the government had picked Mian to join an 18-member council to advise Khan.

Age 43 and a scholar in the field of finance and macroeconomics, Mian is regarded as one of the world's top young economists.

The prime minister's adviser on media, Iftikhar Durrani, confirmed Mian’s appointment had been revoked, while the government's main spokesman alluded to the pressure the government had come under from religious quarters.

"The government wants to move forward with the religious leaders and all segments of society, and if one nomination gives a different impression, then it's not appropriate," Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry tweeted on September 7.

Chaudhry had previously defended Mian's appointment saying, "Pakistan belongs as much to minorities as it does to the majority."

The government, however, changed course following a widespread social media campaign criticizing the appointment and protest threats by the emergent ultra-right Tehreek-e-Labbaik party.

Under Pakistani law, Ahmadis are forbidden from calling themselves Muslims or using Islamic symbols in their religious practices. They face discrimination and violence over accusations that their faith insults Islam, including impediments blocking them from voting in general elections.

The Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims but their recognition of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who founded the sect in British-ruled India in 1889, as a subordinate prophet is viewed by many of the Sunni majority as a breach of the Islamic tenet that the Prophet Mohammad was God’s last direct messenger.

"Whenever and wherever any Ahmadi is needed to serve the nation, they will be the first to offer their services," community spokesman Salim Ud Din told Reuters when asked to comment on Mian's removal from the council.